Everybody Says I Hate You

Everybody Says I Hate You

Territio verbalis. It’s not an incantation from Harry Potter, but it’s straight from the era of the Thirty Years’ War, when elaborate trials were held for heresy and witchcraft. It means “terrorization by word,” and it’s the perfect phrase to describe the machinations of the right wing in their never-ending quest to keep dissent at bay and freedom of expression tightly controlled.

It’s been a staple of totalitarian regimes to denounce leftists as traitors to the homeland, and the right wing in America has learned its Cold War lessons well. Every time someone questions the government, or comes out with a book like Richard Clarke’s “Against All Enemies”, or a polemic like Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” the Republican media machine goes into overdrive with condemnations deriving from territio verablis. Tried but true, the right wing routinely charges their enemies with hating America.

Is this the best that the right-wing can do? Is this the deepest that their minds can reach? If you disagree with how the country is being run, the first and foremost tactic is to paint someone as hating the country? If this were not the United States, such reactionary statements would be dismissed as something out of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution, or a complaint by the KGB.

A friend of mine dismissed that catchall complaint by comparing it to the charge that if you criticize the Administration, you’re not supporting the troops. “It’s like the seasons,” he told me, “it comes and goes. Notice how no one is using that line anymore? It’s been deflated, and we can only hope that ’hating the country’ is the next one to go.”

Still, being told that I hate my country because I don’t like George W. Bush or loathe Dick Cheney is something that gets underneath my skin. It comes mostly from mealy-mouthed spoon-clangers that dominate talk radio or specialize in writing about how much they hate liberals and Democrats. It rolls out of their mouths so easily that you wonder if they have any other thoughts running in their heads not based on hate.

Every time I hear someone trot out that phrase, I can’t help but think of how dated it sounds. It’s like something we hear about during the Cold War, when intellectuals or other dissidents were trotted out by the commies for a kangaroo court and one of the many crimes was hating the country. And yet here we are in the freest society on earth, listening to the Cold War leftovers invoking it with no sense of irony. Think about it for a second: we often dismissed communist regimes because of their fundamental lack of freedoms, most important being the freedom of speech. We lauded the intellectuals (Solzhenitsyn, anyone?) and lamented those who never made out alive because totalitarian regimes had the names of these folks at the top of their hit lists. Kill all the intellectuals and other technically-minded folk, so the thinking went, and you have a better chance at molding the minds of uneducated people. With startling regularity, intellectuals were targeted across any number of countries, from the former Soviet Union to Latin America.

Now that the commies are gone, conservatives have lost their appetite for dealing with intellectuals. It’s interesting that when you say the word “intellectual,” the image of a left-leaning liberal probably comes to mind, although we all know you don’t need to belong to the left to be an intellectual. But use it in the everyday sense of the word, and you probably think “elitist.” Intellectuals, in the popular mind, are those who always object to the actions of the government, or are constantly fretting about “civil liberties.” They’re almost always on the side of criminals and never victims; promote godlessness in the form of the separation of church and state, and are tolerant of what they call “alternative lifestyles.” Intellectuals are always spreading their leftist ideas in university classes and encouraging “multiculturalism” and “diversity.”

In the narrow prism of the Iraq War, complete with 11 September underpinnings, intellectuals were now siding with the terrorists. Their elitist views, so the mantra went, placed them squarely on the side of Saddam Hussein. For all of their knowledge, we were told, they utterly failed to see the simple issue of and white, good and bad -- lost as they were in issues of multiculturalism -- and that was too dangerous for the sake of the country. Because of their elitism, our conservative guides declared them to be enemies of the state. Their positions were not based on intellect or history, but rather because they simply hated the country.

So now we’ve come full circle. Conservatives used to be in love with intellectuals because they proved the stupidity and grotesque falseness of communism. Sure, these intellectuals might be leftists of varying degrees, but their propaganda usefulness far outweighed other considerations. Yet after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the intellectuals lost their sheen. The right wing has no use for them, but has returned to the old, comfortable contempt for educated people. Their opposition to the invasion of Iraq and most importantly, of American foreign policy, made their vilification even more important because it contradicted what the White House was telling the American people. In other words, the right-wing was now taking the place of their vanquished Soviet counterparts: denunciation of the intellectuals as subversives and traitors.

It’s hard to judge what is more disturbing: that the right-wing uses such a tired cliché all the time, or that people’s commitment to democracy is so thin. In the confining universe of the right-wing, people who don’t agree with you are liberals, traitors and Democrats. There is no such thing as a difference of opinion; your opponents are just plain wrong. And you repeat this outlook for several hours during the day on talk radio for millions of listeners, or write about it and say it with even more vitriol in chat rooms about how much these liberals are untermenschen: are you not guilty of betraying democracy? You’re encouraging people to limit their freedoms by saying that the Others are guilty of treason. In small order, you’re whipping up a crowd of potential thugs who are willing to threaten your life because you hate America. They know it because they were told so by talk radio, or the National Republic or Rush Limbaugh. And because you are a traitor, you’ve forfeited your right to be here, or even to be alive. In the past, acts of violence like the killing of radio host Allen Berg were treated as violent acts by fringe groups (and in the Berg murder, that certainly was the case). But sooner or later, someone of prominence will be killed by another listener of talk radio who doesn’t belong to a white supremacist group that no one’s ever heard of. It’ll be by someone who’s devoured the books of Ann Coulter or Dick Morris and is an avid fan of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. They’ll kill out of ideology because their victim was an intellectual who hated the country and was, ergo, a traitor. And in these post-11 September times, you can’t be sure that they’re not giving comfort to the enemy.

The right wing does not encourage freedom of speech: they seek to prevent it from everyone who doesn’t toe their line. They employ a vast arsenal of hatred that encourages their listeners to limit their compassion for others and openly call for measures to curb all freedoms. The left, for its part, has been duped into thinking that the right wing is just the loyal opposition, or that if you just educate people, they’ll come around to your side or see the world as a multifaceted place rather than just Us and Them. This fantasy has allowed the right wing to cull an impressive money base and make a huge push into the broadcast media market. In short order, the right wing has outflanked the left and taken command of molding public opinion. They are, in effect, more adroit at propaganda than the left is. The right wing not only plays on peoples’ fears, but exploits the tendency for authoritarianism, bigotry, and the potential for violence.

This isn’t to suggest that all right wing or conservative commentary is just butchery waiting to happen. But, to dismiss it — as the left often does — as mere hyperbole is woefully misguided. The right wing in the United States is not a benign presence in American politics: it is a movement that is dedicated to finding support for conservative ideologies and programs, just as there are leftist movements with the same goals in mind for their world view. Yet the right wing, itself, does not see the left as loyal opposition, but targets in a broader war, and that struggle does not account for differing viewpoints. It seeks to suppress them. Leftists will fall over themselves to get everyone’s opinion: the right seeks to make one opinion dominate all others. The end purpose is to consolidate power over others and curtail liberties in the name of national security or fighting terrorism. The dominance of one ideology is anathema to a functioning democracy, but we see it everyday in the increasingly hateful viewpoints of the right wing and their bitterly vicious contempt of the left. The simplest manifestation of this hatred is declaring that the left hates America.

And it always starts with the intellectuals.